In an undercover, investigative story much like a Dateline special, The Times Union out of Albany, NY has broken into the darker, unknown side of the cost of diabetes….
Diabetic test strips are not regulated and are sold over-the-counter in pharmacies, Target and Walmart, as well as by online mail-order companies. They are expensive, and not everyone who needs them has health insurance to cover the cost. Technically it’s not illegal to resell them, according to the Food and Drug Administration. However, federal law requires those selling diabetic test strips to register with the FDA, but few in the black market bother to do so. A lucrative market exists because those with test strips to sell got them at no charge or for a small co-pay through Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance and fraudulently continue to reorder in large quantities and people without insurance can buy them from black market resellers on eBay and Craigslist at a deep discount. It seems like a win-win situation, except for taxpayers, who are on the hook for those entitlement programs and employees and companies who have seen insurance costs rise due to spiraling medical costs. The law-abiding majority are the ones hurt by the sketchy deals.
All of us diabetics know that there is a black market for test strips because they are expensive. I’ve written before about how my insurance cut back my allowed number of test strips from a 3 month supply of 9 boxes of 100 or 900 strips, which is $80 after insurance (testing an avg. of 10 times a day) to 6 boxes, or 600. That’s a loss of 300 strips or 30 days! For a while I tried to test less frequently but that didn’t work. I am a mother of 3 young boys and I can’t be responsible for their lives when I’m not sure if my blood sugar is high or low…will I fall asleep at the wheel because my sugar is high or run off the road because it is low? So when I run out of strips, I look online (Ebay, Craig’s List etc.) or I spend my own money and pay out of pocket until my next shipment of prescription covered is delivered.
“I’m not surprised there’s a black market,” said Dr. Matthew Leinung, an Albany endocrinologist. “Everyone’s making money on the strips because people have diabetes their entire lives and they need a never-ending supply.” An unintended consequence is that Leinung must continuously negotiate with insurance companies on behalf of his patients because insurers want to limit the number of strips they’ll pay for while he wants his patients to test more often. Fraud and abuse inflates costs, and patients with legitimate needs are penalized.
The ‘dangers’ include expired strips….
An even more pressing fear for endocrinologists and certified diabetes educators is that uninsured or underinsured diabetics might be buying defective or expired test strips.
The bigger concern in my opinion is that we need to make test strips affordable so there is no need for a black market.